Hungary has a long history of being occupied, at one stage or another they were run by the Romans, Mongols, Hepsburgs and Soviets. In WWI Hungary were involved in the ‘losing’ side and consequently lost part of their land. In WWII the Nazis promised Hungary that if they joined forces, they would be able to reclaim their land, but we all know what happened there. The country is considered to be in a post-communist era, which means it used to be a communist country but there are still subtle signs of communism that have not yet been eradicated.
Budapest (pronounced Booda-Pesht) was originally two cities; ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’ and were divided by the Danube River. The Buda side is considered to be the older and hillier city with poorly mapped out streets whereas the Pest side (where we stayed) is built in a grid pattern, is relatively flat and is where a lot of the shops, restaurants and bars are situated.
This city is absolutely stunning; the people, the buildings, the scenery. The best thing about it, is that everything is ridiculously cheap (and it must be cheap if a tightass like me was impressed). On average Jason and I spent approximately $10 each on dinner which included an entree and a main, entrance to museums/attractions is $5-$10 and a 24 hour public transport pass is approximately $7 (includes trams, buses, boats, trains). So if you’re looking for an incredibly cheap escape filled with history and culture, this is the place to visit.
Our first day involved a bus tour outside the city following the path of the the bend in the river (Danube Bend). We visited 3 small towns along the way Esztergom (centre of Catholocism in Hungary), Visegrad (castles on the hills) and Szentendre (a bohemian town previously occupied by Greeks, Turkish and Slovakians). It was great to see what life is like outside the big city,.
The following day involved us starting off wandering around aimlessly looking for a free walking tour, only to realise we’d gone to the wrong spot. This is what happens when there are two train stations with almost identical names. So after a rocky start to the morning we headed to the Invisible Experience. This was rated on Tripadvisor as one of the top things to do in Budapest. I knew it had to do with the experience of a blind person, but little did I know what was to come. We were escorted into a pitch black room, and there we could hear the sounds of two other tourists and our male guide. From there we had to feel our way in between rooms (kitchen, bathroom, lounge room), then into the streets, over a bridge and into a cabin. We found it quite confronting not being able to see anything as we were questioning our every step. It gave us a tiny glimpse of what life is like for people with vision impairments, definitely a worthwhile experience.
After this we headed for TRAP which is one of the first Exit Games in Budapest. Its here in Budapest that the Exit Game craze began and after only a few years, there are now approximately 50 companies doing these games in the city. So for those of you who don’t know what it is, an exit game involves you and your team (up to 5 people) being place in a room full of puzzles and clues and finding a way to escape. The time limit is usually 1 hour. This was our first experience and it was absolutely fantastic. There were instances where we were pulling out hair trying to figure out the puzzles, and with a few hints along the way, we managed to exit in 58 minutes. Our night involved a visit to the famous Szechnyi Baths a huge historic and beautiful facility heated by natural springs.
On the third day, we eventually found the correct meeting point for the Free walking tour. Its one of the activities we try to do when we first arrive in any city as it gives you a wide overview of the attractions and also recommendations of places to go and things to avoid. This was followed by our first ever caving experience with a company called ‘Caving Under Budapest’. In a group of ten we descended down a 10 metre ladder down into the Pal-volgyi Cave. From there we had just over 2 hours of crawling, rolling, slipping and sliding through tiny crevasses which I barely fit in. It was tiring, scary but so much fun. Our knees were bruised and battered by the end of it but it was so worth it. We ended the evening with a late dinner at a restaurant called ‘Hungkarian Bistro’, a family run establishment which serves authentic Hungarian cuisine. Hungarians are known for their meaty and not-so-healthy but oh-so-delicious dishes. Between us we had the Duck Leg (best duck we’ve had), Hortobagyi Palacsinta (pancake filled with meat – this was my second one and I absolutely loved it) and a Lankas (deep fried dough covered in garlic sauce, sour cream and cheese – yum!).
For our last day we decided to hire a car. Now Jason had only recently taken up manual car lessons (thanks Hong!), only two in fact, but he was confident that he’d be able to drive it whilst we were here. So being his wife, I had to trust him. We arrived at the car hire company and encountered our first obstacle; Jason left his license in London. I was the only one with a license, but we’d left it back in the hotel, so an hour later after going back to collect my license we came back to the hire company, whilst both of us were fully aware that I had never driven a manual car in my life. So we did the sneaky thing of putting me in the drivers seat when the car hirer walked out with us, pretended to fiddle around with the GPS, and when they walked away, we quickly swapped places and Jason drove away quickly. Phew, crisis averted.
We drove up to the wine region Badasconytomaj but unfortunately because its off season, everything was closed. Thankfully the area surrounds Hungary’s largest Lake Balaton which was absolutely stunning to look at. We also stopped by at a beach down Skofel but again that too was closed. So we headed back to Budapest where Jason stalled the car whilst attempting to drive up a slight slope in peak traffic. After about 4 attempts and a lot of sweating (and swearing) the car finally got going and we didn’t roll back and crash into the car behind us.
That evening we walked up the steep Gellert Hill which took about 20 minutes. There we had the main view point of the entire city, and it was breathtaking. This city is a photographer’s dream, and with my new lens and tripod in hand, I was in heaven. Now atop this hill sits Hungary’s version of the Statue of Liberty, originally brought over when the Soviets occupied the country. The hill itself is named after a man called Gellert who apparently tried to convert Protestants into Catholics and was placed in a barrel full of nails and was pushed down the hill. He is known as the first martyr.
So thats our wrap up of our experience in Hungary; absolutely delightful! Would have loved a few more days there to explore the ruin bars and Jewish quarter.
Next is a train ride to Vienna
Till next time
Ann & Jason xo